Queuing in China - a True Cultural Experience

Queuing in China - a True Cultural Experience
adb2014 Nov 18, 2014 10:01

Queuing is easy.


 Or at least it should be. Logically, there’s nothing difficult about waiting in line with a group of other bored people to do what you need to do, get served and leave.


But in Guangzhou, it’s never quite that simple. Queuing here can be messy, disorganised and at times, chaotic.


It’s not so bad in banks and hospitals where you have take a number to get served. Even though there are usually long waits involved, you at least know exactly when your turn will arrive and there’s some semblance of order. (Having said that, you usually get impatient people in hospital queues who march directly to the front and demand that the staff there give them something, or stamp something for them. Incredibly, 9 times out of 10, they get what they want)


However, it’s different when I visit the supermarket, catch a bus or go for a quick bite to eat. With no numbers to keep people in place, it then becomes everyone for themselves. In Australia, I could usually let my mind wander while waiting in a neat, single line to board the bus. But that becomes a distant memory every time a local bus pulls up and I try to squeeze into the doorway amid constant pushing and shoving.


There’s a little food stall down the road from where I work, which sells cheap, delicious bread. Many others seem to think so too, which is why there’s usually a big crowd every time I go there. There’s rarely a queue and no waiting for service, just a mob of people yelling out their orders all at once. What’s interesting though, is that the staff listens to them and effortlessly gives the people what they want, in the order that they shouted. In the meantime, the strange little foreign man that stands there waiting to be served is still there an hour later, thinking they’ll serve him just like they do in Australia. 


Another time I was at the Australian Consulate where someone was filling out a form at one of the windows. A middle-aged couple then went right up to the window and started talking to the consular official. When I first saw them all there, I thought they were all together, until the official asked them politely but firmly to move back. It turned out they didn’t know each other at all, the couple were just very impatient.


My wife and I had some issues in Hong Kong hotels and train stations a few years ago. On both occasions, we were in the middle of our transactions when small groups just wandered straight up to the windows and stated their business, oblivious to the fact that we were already there. At the hotel, the clerk barked at them to get back and wait, while at the train station, I took the initiative. I turned to them when they tried to hand over documents and said very loudly “Do you mind? We’re still being served!” while motioning for them to get back. They gave me a deer-caught-in-headlights look while I glared at them impatiently. (It was the end of our holiday, it was late, we were tired and I wasn’t in the mood for niceness) One of them opened their mouth to say something but then thought better of it and they all quietly got back behind the yellow line.


When I finish classes at work with the younger grades, I usually get them to line up before they leave the room, which is much easier said than done. Despite being told in both English and Chinese to line up in single file and not jump the queue, they all rush to the door at once and it can take some time to get them all in order. There are usually a couple of boys (it’s always boys for some reason) who usually skip straight to the front, despite the others’ protests. When I ask them firmly to move back, they look extremely offended and protest wildly before eventually giving in and skulking off to the back.


I’m happy to say that the situation is getting slightly better as people slowly understand that queuing properly is much more pleasant and civilised than pushing and elbowing people out the way. I hope the constant TV ads and propaganda posters promoting this practice will have some positive, long-term effect.  .

Tags:Expat Tales


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While waiting in line at the roadside train ticket vendor, I saw a Chinese guy walk up next to the first guy in line. I had woken up early in the morning and was second in line. After the first guy got his tickets, the guy stepped in front of me and shouted his ticket order to the ticket seller. I lost it and just pushed the guy aside and yelled at him to line up at the back of the line. The ticket seller knew I was next and took my order first. The guy said nothing and just walked away. He knew he was wrong.

Dec 05, 2014 10:19 Report Abuse



I can deal with line cutting when I'm not in a hurry but what pisses me off the most is when people walk in front of me to steal my taxi right as its pulling over to pick me up. There is no basic etiquette waiting for taxis here - just the ME first attitude.

Dec 04, 2014 21:46 Report Abuse



You have to work with the system. After getting annoyed once too many, I started observing how they do it. I can now jump the queue with the best of them. If you can't beat them, join them, it is one less thing to complain about.

Dec 03, 2014 15:14 Report Abuse



The problem is the Chinese don't see your actions as "Hey, he's acting like us" but more as "Hey, that foreigner is a total ass for being so pushy on the bus!" You can't win for losing, bro.

Dec 03, 2014 16:05 Report Abuse



Exactly! When Chinese smoke indoors, and Westerners complain, it's "This is China. Everybody does it." When Chinese litter, same thing. "This is China. Everybody does it." When Chinese treat the sidewalks like public toilets, and when they push and shove, it's the same response. When a Westerner does it... then it's different. "See! Foreigners are so badly behaved. They smoke/litter/cut in lines/etc., unlike us civilized Chinese."

Dec 05, 2014 08:24 Report Abuse



I still wait in line, and demand that others do too (I've told Chinese on more than one occasion to get back in line when they tried to push ahead). I do realize that it's just a small drop in the bucket, but still, I'd rather be part of a solution than part of the problem.

Dec 05, 2014 08:25 Report Abuse



A little off the subject, yet indirectly involves queuing, so to speak. One day I had finished classes and took my young son to eat lunch in the college cafeteria where I work. Pretty much as a little guy he gets run over by the hordes of large students racing to get their meals and do something else. My kid tries to stand where he thinks there is some simulation of a line, only to find that everyone else has gotten their food while he is left waiting to say something. I watch him and step in to help lead the way - Although he was born in China, he still follows western habits. Later, we sit outside to enjoy a sunnier day than usual, and while we are relaxing in a courtyard setting along a common roadway, many students happen to pass by after small classes had just let out. Unexpectedly, they were in sort of a line (along the street) - most would shyly wave, smile or say hi. We didn’t plan on being there, especially at the busy time. We just randomly found a peaceful spot - or so we thought... One person (not a student, but a business shop worker on the campus decides to say something derogatory as he takes a turn in passing by us. I surprised him in questioning what he had just said and why - Chinese, but when I do this he turns viciously upset and claims that I just "scolded him" - with responding that he had just said something offensive to us in fact! His loss of face (in us recognizing what he said - my son's Chinese is better than mine - and challenging him at why he had to say such when others were all politely sharing normal greetings, at what he thought was a free opportunity to harass us for no reason almost turned into a scene! I know it's best not to have said anything, but he caught me with my guard down, as I was desperately trying to relax after a busy morning... I was probably in a bad mood too!

Dec 07, 2014 01:55 Report Abuse



I didn't realize that having no patience with no consideration for anyone else was a cultural trait. Your appreciation of this moronic behavior is amazing. This sort of behavior is exactly why I hate this country.

Nov 25, 2014 18:01 Report Abuse




Nov 24, 2014 02:06 Report Abuse